Feet in Christmas socks near fireplace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Navigating the Holidays

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

During the holiday season, images of a crisp snow covered lane, with the view into the frosted window of a warm and cozy home, the scene of a blazing fire, a long decorative table filled with scrumptious holiday delights, and loved one’s surrounding the table brings feelings of dissonance for many. The holidays absolutely have the potential to bring feelings of intimate experiences filled with belonging, exhilaration, sharing, and gathering with loved ones. For many, however, there are increases in stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness, difficulties with grieving and loss, conflict, and contemplation.

There is meaning to the ornaments being unboxed, the candles lit, and the years, many times, decades of tradition. There are customs leading up to the season, feelings of anticipation, significance to the day(s) of celebration, and the letdown after everything is put away.

Mental Health Issues Exasperated
During the holidays, mental health, behavioral health, medical issues, and autoimmune issues that individuals grapple with each day have the potential to become exasperated and contribute to increased symptoms, stress, and feelings of exhaustion. For many, it’s extremely difficult to navigate through increases in symptoms and difficulties with coping. Many times, individuals’ cope with negative coping mechanisms (i.e., alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, lowered self-care, and/or misuse of medications).

Consider individuals grappling with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), “Twelve month prevalence of GAD is .9% among adolescents and 2.9% among adults in the general community of the United States” (American Psychiatric Association, p. 223, 2013). Individuals have the potential to experience symptom increases (i.e., difficulty concentrating, irritability, difficulties controlling worry, levels of fatigue, muscle tension, and issues with sleep), which complicates discomfort and difficulty in managing symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, p. 222, 2013).

Additionally, individuals contending with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) grapple with an array of symptoms (i.e., fear of negative evaluation, being humiliated, and/or rejected), many times, avoiding social situations (American Psychiatric Association, p. 202, 2013). During the holidays, it’s difficult to avoid all social situations and associated symptom increases.

Furthermore, consider the significant impact and issues with functioning associated with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), “Twelve month prevalence of major depressive disorder is approximately 7%, with marked differences by age group” (American Psychiatric Association, p. 165, 2013). Symptom increases (i.e., feelings of sadness, hopelessness, minimal interest and pleasure, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, diminished concentration, and issues with sleep) complicate already difficult daily functioning and increase the probability of grappling with each facet of holiday obligation and interactions.

Conceptualize the experience of comorbidity of GAD, SAD, and/or MDD with or without substance use (and/or any mental health diagnosis) and its associated symptoms, with the presence of holiday stress, pressures, and the impact physiologically and psychologically. It’s best to seek out therapy prior to the holidays to develop positive coping strategies, realistic expectations, awareness to pressures, work through increases in symptoms, and to decrease the probability of underlying issues being triggered.

Engaging and Balancing Conflict — Differing Views vs. Differing Values
Some families benefit from closeness and healthy working dynamics. However, even when this is present in the environment, there is potential for conflict and tension during high pressure and high stress times; including desirable ones during the holidays.

Inevitably, there will be internal triggers experienced when engaging with others, which has potential to feel agonizing. In this environment, develop awareness to balance what degree of engagement feels healthier. At times, lighter conversations will assist in minimizing triggers. In the event, stress and discomfort become too overwhelming to engage, take a few moments to walk outside for some air. Take a few deep breaths and allow the increases in oxygen to balance parasympathetic response, and increase oxygen to the brain to assist with feelings of relaxation, (Wolford, p. 2, 2015). Furthermore, spend time with younger family members; if this is enjoyable. Children and adolescents have potential to bring a different perspective and magic to the holiday, which increases fun and increases relaxation.

Additionally, avoid family conflict. There are two primary areas of focus. First, refrain from engagement, debate, and argument regarding issues of contention between family members and/or friends in general, and where estrangement is present. At times, there may be pressure to choose sides. There is psychological benefit in refraining from choosing sides, treating each person with respect, and engaging with each person individually, if necessary. Reflect prior to being in the shared environment on personal values and feelings regarding the dynamics surrounding conflict. The cognitive process of reflection has potential to increase levels of confidence to support disengagement in the conflict, while dually engaging with others in regards to the positive aspects of relationships and holiday gatherings. This will lower stress, and minimize increases in mental health symptoms.

Lastly, it’s reasonable to have different views; it’s a driving factor of being human. Many times, human’s enjoy debating these views. There is a level of cognitive stimulation, fun, and strategy involved. With this being said, individuals must consider individual motivations, and how each message is given and received. There are distinct differences in the motivations of debating in positive banter with loved one’s out of pleasure, mutual understanding, and respect, even with the presence of opposing views and/or a heated discussion. Equally, it’s beneficial to refrain from debating in negative, critical manners with a family member and/or friend of differing values where high tensions are present. During holiday gatherings, consider each individual relationship, underlying motivations, and feelings. When tensions are high and values are vastly opposing, different views have opportunity to be debated at another time. In this situation, it’s best to refrain during holiday gatherings. However, in a cohesive and healthy environment, enjoy the banter. Individuals possess varying levels of impulse control. Develop awareness of strengths in impulse control, areas of grappling, and the resulting behaviors of each; then, gauge the best course of action accordingly. In each interaction, engage with respect and graciousness.

Loneliness, Isolation, Grief, and Change
At times, there are shifts in family, friends, supports, and a sense of community. Death, illness, and/or divorce are difficult to navigate through in daily life, and exhausting during the holidays. New traditions that have yet to be created and resistance to shifts in traditions that are no longer possible are common. For divorced partners with children, there are the adjustments for each in regards to splitting time. In the most amicable situations where partners remain respectful and possibly friendly, difficulties, stress, grief, and negative feelings have potential to arise during the holidays. Negotiating for wellness of each individual involved is imperative to maintaining balance and decreasing the probability of future issues.

The loss and associated grieving of a deceased loved one is an excruciating and extensive process. Many times, significant changes to meaningful traditions are a painful reality. Developing awareness that grief will resurface intermittently, many times over, and during meaningful interactions is imperative. Finding ways to honor the deceased loved one will assist with holding on to the meaning of significant traditions, and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness; including traditions that will inevitably change over time. Grieving is an individual process, the time frame varies from person to person, and is based on the significance of the relationship. It is vital to develop self-compassion and to seek out supports.

Preventative measures
Start with being honest about limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. When there are children in the home, balance spending time with children, and with family and friends. Schedule visits on days close to the holiday celebration instead of over committing in one day. This will increase enjoyment of holiday events and decrease feelings of obligation, and potentially, resentment. Additionally, the gatherings may become a tradition and special day to look forward to for each individual involved.

Reflect honestly
Many times, thoughts, feelings, and ruminations in regards to family dynamics, divorce, death, estranged relationships, and the focus of seemingly endless obligations increase stress, anxiety, and/ or depressive symptoms. It becomes overwhelming for individuals and difficult to balance. Most times, it is beneficial to ask for help, which has the potential to reduce stress and increases the capacities to function well throughout the holidays.

Having awareness that there will be stress assists in setting realistic expectations. Many times, a few simple changes will allow flexibility, while dually honoring traditions (i.e., cooking the meal in advance, offering for each person to choose a dish to bring, setting boundaries to time spent at each gathering, and/or planning finances and budgets a year or more prior). At times, the more an individual attempts to take on without assistance or planning, the more emotional and psychological difficulties are experienced, creating an exasperation of mental health, behavior health, and/or medical issues.

Balancing Obligations and Desirable Engagements
Balance obligations and spending time with loved ones; especially, loved ones with a significant role in life. Plan each day by writing each event, commitment, obligation, and list of items needing completed in a planner. While doing this, implement a block of free time to decompress, and to balance unexpected shifts and obligations along the way. Each will reduce stress and assist in balancing emotions, energy, and mental health. Consider taking vacation and/or personal days if they are available and will not contribute to more stress at another time of the year. Doing so will allow for balancing commitments, downtime, and increase the opportunity to decompress after the holiday.

Continue nutritional habits (refrain from inflammation supporting foods), regular exercise, activities, and incorporating healthy sleep cycles. For long trips, bring snacks and water. In addition, when offered to stay with family and/or friends, consider personal comfort. For example, if one partner feels uncomfortable due to personalities, temperament, family dynamics, and/or if children get tired and need rest, consider staying at a hotel for the night. Make it fun for the family and have awareness of individual feelings, thought processes, and how daily function is potentially impacted. When setting boundaries, be kind, gracious, and genuine. Avoid using children as an excuse – be accountable for individual feelings, emotions, comfort, values, setting boundaries, avoiding “ the shoulds,” and saying no when necessary.

When the Ornaments Are Boxed
After the ornaments are put away, and daily life moves forward, it’s important to consider what to do with unprocessed feelings and emotions, and the grief and loss of the passing season. Begin to navigate the cognitive steps towards healing by seeking out the support of family, friends, community, and a therapeutic relationship. Focusing on gratitude (what is present over what is void), resuming daily activities, and seeking out strong supports assists with this process greatly.

In conclusion, the holidays are layered with complex emotions and meaning; simultaneously filled with the potential to grapple with increased symptoms of mental health and medical issues, stress, loneliness, and the innate desire to connect, share, give, and experience intimate feelings of belonging. Consider the benefits to being mindful that each person’s life experiences, environment, genetic predisposition, personality, temperament, supports, family and friends, and dynamics are different. Ultimately, develop awareness and engage realistically regarding the pleasures and difficulties associated with the holidays – allow for positive interactions to happen organically towards a more genuine and enjoyable experience. 

References
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Benson, H. 1979. The Mind/Body Effect. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Benson, H., & Klipper, M. Z. (2000). The Relaxation Response. New York: William Morrow.
Wolford, K. (2015). Relaxation response: Herbert Benson. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.

***

Mandi is a therapist with over 6 years experience working with adults, couples, older adults, adolescents, and first responders. Mandi works with an array of issues, and is passionate about supporting others. She feels strongly that human-beings benefit from the experiences of learning, growing, and developing throughout each stage of life.

Friendship
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 6: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 6 of 6 – The ‘You’ Factor in Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on developing quality relationships. Article 6 of 6 focuses on you, your identity, and your role in developing quality relationships.

How well do you know yourself?

Knowing yourself, the deeper meaning of who you are, and how to apply each to building and nurturing the quality of life you desire is a long-term and at times, difficult process. It takes work, vulnerability, comfort with you as a whole, with each of your facets, and strength. Learning about yourself (i.e., what you enjoy, dislike, how you plan, your work ethic, preferences for physical and emotional intimacy, desires, fears, anxieties, coping style, what you grapple with, and how you engage in relationships) is a key factor in the process of honoring who you are as a human.  Each impact you as a human, and how you engage in relationships. In addition, knowing your identity on a fundamental level assists in navigating the smooth, bumpy, and at times, roaring waters of a relationship.

Developing a deep understanding and commitment to who you are (and aren’t) as a person increases life satisfaction.  In addition, having a stable identity increases the probability of partnering with a person that is more compatible with you.  It’s human nature to desire connection with your partner, independence, interdependence, enjoyment of time together, a level of contentment, safety, and to feel fundamentally on the same page. At times, this is difficult to navigate; especially when negotiating through life, family, morals and values, goals, growth, change, and difficult times.

Part of knowing who you are is developing a strong sense of the following:

Consider the significance of each for you as an individual, and how each positively and negatively impact your relationship.

  1. What do you enjoy, what are your daily habits, and how does each impact your quality of life?

Consider how this supports you, your goals, and what this means for you in a relationship.

  1. What are your educational and career goals? How does this impact you in a relationship long-term?

Consider your goals educationally and professionally.  Then consider how this works with a long-term relationship and decisions on family.

  1. How often do you prefer to have physical intimacy in a relationship? What are you open to sexually? What boundaries will you set?

In addition, consider:  Whether or not your partner has similar preferences, and how to navigate differences in healthy ways.

The above takes time, a healthy self-disclosure-trust ratio (at your personal comfort and pace), vulnerability, healthy boundaries, and openness, as well as, respect. Have fun with it, if and when you decide it’s right for you.

  1. What is your comfort with emotional intimacy?

Consider your comfort with sharing the depth of your emotions and receiving your partners, eye contact, verbal affirmations, and how you express, feel, and give love and support. In addition, explore the meaning of giving and receiving of each in your relationship.

  1. What do you desire for yourself and in a relationship? Is this realistic long-term?

Developing realistic expectations for yourself, for your partner, and the relationship as a whole takes work and exploration. In addition, consider your approach to growth and change throughout long-term relationships.

  1. Check in on mental health.

Consider what you grapple with, how this impacts the ways you engage that may support and/or hinder progress as an individual and in relationships.

Consider how each affects communication styles, mental health, and attachments.

When issues are spilling-over and decreasing your quality of life and/or lowering life satisfaction- be kind to yourself and seek out support.

  1. Honoring yourself and your identity.

Explore what supports and strengthens you and your wellness as a whole person.  Then consider how to implement self-support and honor into your relationship with yourself and with your partner.

  1. Create and implement healthy boundaries.

Whether you’re repressing aspects of who you are, if you’re still figuring out your identity, or if you’ve given yourself permission to explore and honor who you are, you’re still you. Honor who you are by creating healthy boundaries and do so with integrity, respect, by being ethical, and doing no harm to others. Be humble, build awareness of your strength, and implement balance.

At times, it’s difficult to know what healthy boundaries are. The support of a therapist will assist you in identifying and implementing healthy boundaries that honor you as a human.  

  1. Do a self inventory.

Check in with how you’re treating yourself.  Are you treating yourself with kindness and self-compassion, engaging in self-care, honoring your identity, and checking in with how you feel?

Give yourself permission to take inventory of your relationship, your feelings, and the significance of each in your life. 

  1. Have fun in the process.

Engaging in fun is healthy for your brain, for you psychologically and physiologically, it lowers stress, and supports a sense of life balance.  You’ll feel refreshed and more ready to take on what’s important to you each day.

Learning and developing who you are (and aren’t) as a human supports you, your life goals, and allows for you to spend time with yourself in more enjoyable and authentic ways. You’ll feel more whole, more confident, more comfortable in your choices, and you’ll enjoy your relationships more.  With that being said, if you’re not there yet, give yourself permission to explore and uncover who you are in healthy ways- it will nurture and strengthen you as a whole human and each of your facets too 🙂

In conclusion, this series of articles was designed to give you insight into communication, respect, appreciation, attachment, relationships, and in giving yourself permission to develop and honor your identity moving forward. Relationships are work, including the one with yourself.  You’re worth the time, energy, and dedication it takes towards a healthier more satisfying life, identity, and in developing quality relationships.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

***

MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

Two women friends in an friendly embrace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 5: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored.  How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally.  For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners.  During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.

In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation.  At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down.  It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment.  At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust.  Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.

It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships.  For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication.  It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging.  S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.

At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital.  Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness.  You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner.  You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance.  You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship.  It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries.  Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human.  However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.

Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.

Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship.  Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction.  It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.

In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.

COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

***

MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

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Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 2: Engaging Academically and Socially in College and Grad School

A Comprehensive 2 Part Guide: Eleven Areas to Consider to be Successful throughout College and Graduate School

Part 2: Focusing on the Social Engagement

Part two of this comprehensive guide focuses on the social engagement of academic relationships and the long-term growth experienced throughout.  Take a few moments to check out Part 1: Focusing on the Academics.

  1. Some professors will be more interesting than others. Each has a different personality, temperament, level of structure to the course, and teaching style. Whether s/he is funny, boring, or runs around wearing a cape, understand that they’re human and come with their own weird quirks too. With that being said, if you build a solid relationship with a professor, take them again, and if you don’t, consider that you’re only with this person for one semester and move forward from there.
  1. Ask questions! Use your voice – respectfully. At times, individuals will feel nervous talking with professors or had a difficult experience where it felt like the professor didn’t want bothered. Working through the nervousness and asking questions is extremely important. It will help with your academic success long-term! Many questions and the need for clarifications arise in the years of academia. Go directly to your professor. Most will take the time and want to help you. Plus, this assists with increasing your communication skills.
  1. Personal issues occur from time to time. Most are manageable. However there may be times where balancing personal issues and academics is difficult for students. At times, I will recommend finding ways to focus on academics during difficult times.  Yes, the last thing you want to do. Each semester, I talk with and support students contending with personal issues – many professors do. It’s important to balance your commitments with your goals. For example, the probability of success increases by carving out time in an environment where you feel productive. This may be on campus, in the library, at home, and/or a local coffee shop. Reflect on what works for you when you’re experiencing lower stress levels and do your best to apply this in short to moderate segments. Many times, you’ll feel your motivation return and continue making progress.
  1. Anxiety, whether General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and/or test anxiety with the associated stress of each are experienced by students each semester. It feels extremely consuming and overwhelming for most. At times, even making small changes such as coming prepared to classes and turning in your work on time help minimize anxiety. In addition, practice deep breathing, and work towards building your confidence as a person and academically. It’s important to allow yourself to tolerate discomfort while learning ways to cope with and minimize anxiety, and to remind yourself that you’re in a safe environment. This is an extensive subject and if this is an area you’re struggling with, you’re welcome to contact eTalkTherapy – our therapists will be able to help you work through your anxiety and learn ways to be successful academically and feel confident in the process.
  1. Find a mentor. Most times, as you go through your academic career preparing for the professional world, you’ll meet professors along the way that you’ll remember and reflect on being genuine, approachable, and taking the extra time. At times, you’ll build a professional relationship; especially, if the degree you’re working towards is under the same department as the professor, you may find yourself in a number of her/his courses. They make great mentors. I would recommend asking in a mindful way and if they’re open to it and scheduling allows for it, then you’ll have a fantastic resource (appreciate it).
  1. Remember to have fun! This is an amazing opportunity to unfold more of your identity as a person, to build confidence, and move towards a genuine and authentic self. Enjoy your classes, meeting new people, developing relationships, and learning and growing as a human throughout the entire process.

Please take a few moments and check out Part 1: Focusing on the Academics

Learn, grow, and enjoy,
Mandi

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Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Engaging Academically and Socially in College and Grad School

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

A Comprehensive 2 Part Guide: Eleven Areas to Consider to be Successful throughout College and Graduate School

Part 1: Focusing on the Academics

Whether you’re new to college or returning after many years, it’s important to learn how to engage and to make conscious choices as to what type of student you plan on working towards being throughout your academic career, and couple this with your natural gifts and capacities. This includes being realistic regarding strengths and weaknesses (academically and otherwise). It’s important to simultaneously work on areas of strength and on weakness where the capacities to improve are present, while accepting the limitations of areas that have a low probability of shifting over time.

Additionally, this is a time of learning and growth academically and as a human-being. The more time spent in academia, the more changes you’ll experience as an individual. It’s important to implement changes towards reinforcing what you’re doing well, adjusting what you’re struggling with, and supporting your short-term and long-term goals.

Below are a few areas to build awareness in and reflect on towards supporting your work towards academic success (i.e., GPA, engaging in an academic environment, and in planning and working towards achieving personal goals, including the transition into a professional environment).

  1. Learn how to study. It’s important to consider that professors have different teaching styles and there are reasons for this. Consider the array of curriculum you will have the opportunity to learn in each course and throughout each semester (yes, I said opportunity). For example, if I am teaching an area of the course focusing on research or statistics, it’s important for students to have examples of research studies or formulas available to utilize in practice and application. There are numerous ways to consolidate and retrieve information, which will help you learn the information better.  This assists in setting realistic and beneficial study goals that feel manageable.
  1. Learn how to take notes. This is difficult for some students. For example, if I am teaching students about brain function and genetic factors relating to a particular set of disorders, I’ll give the students an opportunity to see it, hear it, write it, and then there are opportunities to analyze, apply, and study the information to build understanding for exams and towards future curriculum. It’s important to take the information presented and write it in terms you’ll understand and note the examples given, which will help you remember the information after class.
  1. PowerPoint is not everything, this typically goes for textbooks as well. However, it is an important tool utilized in many courses. Writing every word of the PowerPoint down during class tends to create anxiety and at times, is counter intuitive. This increases the potential for issues with focus, missing important and relevant details, and implementing information into your working memory towards short-term memory, and then long-term memory.  Remember, this is part of note taking and learning how to pull important information.  It takes time, practice, and adjusting to new course work each semester.
  1. Complete your papers, presentations, and other coursework on time. Most times, professors know when you’re making up a fake crisis due to a deadline being missed. With that being said, if you’ve procrastinated and are still developing the discipline to complete your work on time be honest. Additionally, if you’re struggling with an area of the curriculum talk with your professor.  S/he will be happy to give you some direction.
  1. What do I call you? Most professors will have a preference of how s/he prefers to be addressed. It’s important to build awareness of the benefits of developing professional relationships with your professors. One way to begin is by noting what your professor requests to be called during the semester. During the course, in the halls, in emails, etc., address your professor in this manner. If s/he requests being addressed as professor, call him or her professor, if s/he requests being addressed as doctor, call her or him doctor, if s/he gives the option of using first names, then choose what you’re most comfortable with. However, I would recommend going with professor until you know for certain and learn the dynamics of the class environment.

Please take a few moments and check out Part 2: Focusing on the Social Engagement

Learn, grow, and enjoy,
Mandi